We are a little superhero crazy right now. Last year we had Arrow (in its second season) and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (first season.) This year we have four more coming…The Flash, Constantine, iZombie, and now Gotham. Is it too much? I guess we’ll have to see. Like anything, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. We really didn’t need 3 different CSIs, 3 different NCISs, 2 Criminal Minds,10 different reality talent competitions, etc. So will the comic/superhero genre be too much? We’ll see. In my opinion as long as they are good shows, it makes so difference to me. And I would argue Gotham isn’t in the same realm as the other comic book shows. Gotham is an origin story. This is not a Batman story, in the present form as we know Batman. In fact, Bruno Heller (the man behind The Mentalist and others) has already come out and said, we not see the Caped Crusader. That makes me happy. There are so many movies about Batman, I don’t need a TV show about him….unless it’s different. Gotham is different.
As I said before, Gotham is an origin story. What does that mean? It means we get to see characters we are familiar with (and some we don’t) before we really knew them. A prequel if you will. But this isn’t the story of how Batman becomes Batman. At least not directly. This is the story of the man who helped define the future Bruce Wayne and the city that Batman fiercely protects. In a way, Gotham is very much the central character of the show the way New York City was for Sex and the City. But Gotham’s central protagonist is rookie Detective Jim Gordon (future Commissioner James Gordon) played by Ben Mackenzie who’s first real crime to solve is the murder of Tom and Martha Wayne, parents of Bruce Wayne (our future Batman.) The Waynes are the wealthiest family in Gotham (so I’m not sure why they were walking down a dark alley at night but that’s another story.) So when Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) are sent to the crime scene, Bullock wants no part of it. Gordon goes over to talk to Bruce, who witnesses the crime, and connects with him instantly. Scenes like this are why I love origin stories so much. You know how this relationship eventually evolves and what their relationship is in the Batman world as we know it today. But we’ve never seen how it all started. We were told, but hearing it and seeing it are so different. It’s a great look into the history of this friendship. Gordon opens up to Bruce to let him know he knows what he’s going through because of the death of his father at a young age. He promises him he’ll find out who did this and bring them to justice. We are introduced to a plethora of characters throughout the pilot most of whom we already know…..Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman (Camren Bicondovra), Oswald Cobblepot AKA The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), Edward Nygma AKA The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Ivy Pepper AKA Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), Barbara Kean AKA Mrs Barbara Gordon (Erin Richards), and is it possible the stand up comedian at Mooney’s establishment is the man we will come to know as The Joker? Maybe not. But Mooney spent a little too much time (as did the camera) paying attention to the stand up. If he was just background for her scene with Cobblepot, why bother giving him so much screen time? Just something to think about. While I love seeing all the people as their original selves vs. their pseudonyms did we really need to meet EVERYONE in the pilot. Couldn’t we have saved some for later? Just seemed as if the show runners were trying to pack 10 pounds of poop into a 5 pound bag.
With all the characters we met that we have some familiarity with, two of the most interesting to me was the one who I knew nothing about and who was brand new….Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith.) Maybe it was the way Smith was playing her but I found her to be sinister, hard ass, a bit terrifying, and incredibly enjoyable. Mooney is one of the big crime lords in Gotham and is fortunate enough to have some of the cops (like Gordon’s partner) in her pocket for protection. But when Mooney thinks Gordon and Bullock didn’t fall in line with her way of doing business, she had them scheduled to be killed. Not to mention, when she finds out the Cobblepot snitched on her, she comes down on him with a violent fury, just short of killing him. Don’t pee in her Cheerios. But someone even scarier with stronger, more powerful ties in Gotham saves their lives. That man is Carmen Falcone, head of the Gotham City mob with a connection to Gordon’s father. We learn that Falcone and Gordon’s father (the former DA of Gotham) were actually friends. I wonder how much of that is actually true vs. Falcone’s interpretation of their arrangement. But this scene (among others) is where we learn why Jim Gordon will have a rough go in Gotham and why the Caped Crusader is eventually needed. Falcone has everyone in his payroll….cops, lawyers, politicians, you name it. Falcone runs the city. In his own twisted way, he loves the city and vows to protect it at all costs. Protect it from whom? I would say from naive, doe eyed cops who want to “clean up” the city from crime and corruption. “You can’t have organized crime without law and order. I love this city and I see it going to hell. I won’t let it go without a fight” Falcone informs Gordon. In Falcone’s mind, the cops are a necessary part of his business model. However, he expects those cops to fall in line with HIS sense of order and justice. Falcone being as smart as he is realizes that Gordon is a good man, like his dad. He’s honorable, a straight shooter, and someone who will do the right thing. So in order to keep him in line, he orders him (through Bullock) to kill Cobblepot. It’s an incredible scene watching Gordon walk Cobblepot to the end of the pier while Cobblepot pleads for his life. And just before Gordon pulls the trigger he tells him “don’t ever come back to Gotham.” He shoots and dumps him in the water. Now, Gordon doesn’t actually shoot him ( you can’t kill The Penguin in the pilot) but from Bullock’s vantage point, Gordon did what Falcone wanted. In the end, Gordon goes to Wayne Manor to see Master Bruce (Alfred of course is with him) to let him know that the man arrested for his parents’ murder wasn’t the right man. That person is still at large and Gordon intends to find him. But the key is Bruce keeping quite about what he knows in order for him to do that. Bruce agrees. You can already begin to see a transformation in Bruce from the scared, crying child, to the methodical, vigilante he will become.
While a lot happened in this episode, the big thing that stood out to me was how well cast this show is. Mackenie is perfectly cast as Gordon. He has the rugged toughness you need to be a top cop in a tough town but he also has the righteous, superior aura that certainly divides the good guys from the bad and highlights the ones in the middle, like Bullock. But how long can he hold onto these high ground morals while trying to clean up the city from the inside of a department wrought with corruption and fear? Will it break him? You have to think no because we know he does become the Commissioner. But just because he rises through the ranks, doesn’t mean he hasn’t had to change who he is to some degree for the greater good. So I’m looking forward to seeing that evolution over the course of the series. Another standout from the show was Robin Lord Taylor as Cobblepot/The Penguin. He was brilliant. He was pathetic and creepy and sad and murderous. You watched him transform from a weak, desperate to be accepted henchman for Fish Mooney to disgraced outcast with an ax to grind against all who wronged him. When you have a show based on a hugely popular comic story and as well a massively successful movie collection over the course of many years, people can have preconceived notions of how characters should look, sound, and act. I try very hard not to have those when I go into a show like this and for the most part it’s easy because everyone is so much younger in Gotham from when we come to know them in Batman. But for characters like The Penguin, The Riddler, possibly The Joker who are old enough to still have early insights into the characters they will become, that we already know, I think it’s much harder for those actors vs. Selina Kyle who is really just a baby at this point. Taylor pulls it off superbly. Logue’s Bullock will be the one to watch for me in the sense that I’m not sure what to make of him. He can easily come across as the prototypical disgruntled veteran cop who hates everyone and life in general. I don’t think that’s the case here. You see signs of him where he may have been very much like Gordon when he started out. But because of certain situations and possibly life altering decisions he’s had to make, he’s become the shades of grey cop who has been sucked into the corruption way of life more so as a means of preservation rather than conscious choice. It’s probably why Gordon angers and frustrates him because he sees himself in him. Someone who once wanted the same things Gordon did but wasn’t strong enough to see it through. He probably sees Gordon as some who has the stones to fight the good fight and I think that makes him proud yet thoroughly embittered at the same time. Maybe none of that is true and I’m looking for a deeper meaning that isn’t there (wouldn’t be the first time.)
Having said all that, in the simplest of terms, Gotham is a cop procedural with a cast of characters we are well aware of. I really don’t think of this as a superhero show the way I do Arrow or probably will when I watch The Flash. This is a cop show…like Castle. Except instead of a precinct and villains we don’t know, Gotham has a precinct and villains we mostly do know. However, we don’t know them in these current forms. We know what they become. The fun part will be watching how they get there!